The theme of Western decline was still running through my head as I perused the New York Times website this AM. In his Damascus dispatch today, Neil MacFarquhar dutifully details the Syrian government's position on the cause of the sustained unpleasantness in the country:
Rather than responding to the motivations and demands behind the antigovernment uprising, opponents and political analysts say, the government has stubbornly clung to the narrative that it is besieged by a foreign plot....
Senior government officials — including Mr. Assad — and their supporters reel off a strikingly uniform explanation for the uprisings, blaming foreign agents and denying official responsibility for the violence.
“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” Mr. Assad said in an interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday. In the interview, Mr. Assad denied ordering a crackdown. “We don’t kill our people,” he said. “No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person.”
Virtually no one in the Syrian government links the uprisings to the sentiment inspiring revolutions across the Arab world, to a public fed up with the status quo. Instead, they say the United States and Israel, allied with certain quisling Arab governments, are plotting to destroy Syria, to silence its lone, independent Arab voice and to weaken its regional ally, Iran. To achieve this aim, they are arming and financing Muslim fundamentalist mercenaries who enter Syria from abroad, Syrian officials say.
“Syria is one of the last secular regimes in the Arab world, and they are targeting Syria,” said Buthaina Shaaban, a presidential political and media adviser, warning that the West would rue the day that it enabled Islamist regimes.
And then I read David Herszenhorn's update on Vladimir Putin's thinking on the causes behind Russian protests earlier this week:
With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned that Russia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.
“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers.”
“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”
Mr. Putin’s assertions of foreign meddling and his vow to protect Russian “sovereignty” came after three days in which the Russian authorities have moved forcefully to tamp down on efforts to protest the elections, arresting hundreds of demonstrators and deploying legions of pro-Kremlin young people in Moscow to occupy public squares and to chant, beat drums and drown out the opposition.
Wow, I had no idea that the United States was this powerful!! Hillary Clinton is apparently capable of getting thousands of Russians in the streets with just a few sentences.
Now clearly, actual American influence over events in Russia and Syria is pretty limited. Still, if the perception of power is a form of power in and of itself, I wonder if the Secretary of State -- perhaps after consuming too much egg nog at the State Department holiday reception -- would be tempted to give the following address to the diplomatic press corps:
I'd like to take this oppportunity today to admit that the United States, is, in fact, responsible for the nine-month uprising in Syria and the recent unrest in Russia. Oh, hell, who am I kidding -- we're responsible for the entire Arab Spring! It's true, the whole thing started about a year ago, at the Policy Planning Staff's Secret Santa party. One of them said, "hey, you know what would really advance American interests in the Middle East? If we destabilized secular authoritarian despots and empowered Islamist parties across the region! Those parties would really be more likely to back American policies in the region! Oh, and we should start with Egypt too, because of their peace treaty with Israel."
That initiative was sooooo successful that, again, my Foreign Service Officers came up with the brilliant concept of instigating the Occupy Wall Street movement, so we could demonstrate a template for how protests should naturally germinate in other countries. Did you like how some of the policy forces overreacted to those movements? Yeah, that was the State Department's idea too. We were hoping to encourage authoritarian leaders to overreact and crack down -- because without our inspiration, they would never have brutally repressed on their own.
Now, some of you might wonder, "if the United States was really this all powerful, why not target countries that pose even bigger security concerns, like Iran, or China, or even Venezuela?" Well, they're next. Think of the Middle East and Russia as just the out-of-town premieres before a show gets on Broadway. We've been working out the kinks to our methods, and now we think we've really perfected a universally applicable formula to apply to all our enemies in one fell swoop. Remember the baptism scene in The Godfather? Well, Hugo Chavez will wish he was Moe Green when we're through with him.
Happy holidays, authoritarian cabals!!
Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that's not really his job description.
I bring this up because I'm wondering if the reverse critricism applies -- should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks?
Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's story on the Obama-Clinton relationship on foreign policy: "Mrs. Clinton has also taken on duties that go beyond her job description. At the request of the White House, she made calls to wavering lawmakers to enlist their support for health care legislation late last year."
Now The Hill's Molly K. Hopper reports that the Secretary of State was actively involved in health care lobbying over the weekend:
Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to persuade on-the-fence Democrats to vote for the healthcare reform bill that narrowly passed the House on Sunday.
Lawmakers told The Hill that Clinton, who failed to convince the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass healthcare reform in 1994, was active in whipping votes for the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
TMPDC's Rachel Slajda provides some context:
The White House kept her in the bullpen, she told CNN in February, taking the mound only when needed.
"When I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it's not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role," she said.
This is a bit unusual, to say the least. In recent history, Secretaries of State have refrained from active lobbying ands/or participation on matters of domestic policy.
What I'm not sure about is whether this is a violation of an unspoken norm or just an unusual situation. Hillary Clinton is not your ordinary Secretary of State. Unlike Axelrod and foreign policy, I'm not about to claim that the Secretary of State lacks sufficient policy expertise on the issue at hand. And let's face it, Hillary has a wee bit more political capital than, say, Warren Christopher did back in the day.
So, question to readers: is this a big deal?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Well, Glenn Kessler's rundown on what's happeing in Phuket is rich with blog-worthy goodness:
The war of words between North Korea and the United States escalated Thursday, with North Korea's Foreign Ministry lashing out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in unusually personal terms for "vulgar remarks" that it said demonstrated "she is by no means intelligent."
Clinton, who earlier this week likened North Korea to an unruly child, has rallied international isolation of North Korea at a 27-member regional security forum here. She met with her Russian, Chinese, South Korean and Japanese counterparts -- the other key partners in suspended six-nation disarmament talks--and won strong statements of support from many delegations....
The Foreign Ministry statement attacking Clinton also amply demonstrated the North Korean mood. "We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to North Korean media. "Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
The fit of pique was apparently inspired by an interview Clinton gave ABC News while visiting New Delhi.
"What we've seen is this constant demand for attention [from North Korea]," Clinton said. "And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention -- don't give it to them, they don't deserve it, they are acting out." (emphases added)
Some random thoughts:
1. If I'm Chelsea Clinton, I'd be pretty cheesed off right now. I never thought of her as particularly "unruly," but what other teenagers has Hillary spent time with? [Cough, cough!!--ed. Oh... right.]
2. You have to give the North Koreans major chutzpah points for accusing other countries of being "unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community." [UPDATE: As Rob Farley puts it, "the Nork rhetoric vaguely reminds me of Daily Kos threads from the early days of the 2008 Democratic primary."]
3. It's worth pointing out that we're now in a place where the Bush administration look positively dovish on North Korea compared to the Obama administration. Here's another way of looking at it: Both Dick Cheney and John Bolton are more comfortable with the Obama administration's Nort Korea policy than Bush administration's. Think about that for a second.
4. A related point -- remember how the Bush administration got pilloried for refusing to talk with Iran, arguing that doing so would confer a reward on the regime? Kessler quotes Clinton as saying, with regard to the Six-Party Talks: "We are open to talks with North Korea. But we are not interested in half measures. We do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table." Now there is a difference between this position and that of the Bush administration vis-à-vis Iran -- but it's not nearly as big a difference as Obama defenders are likely to claim.
5. What's the end game in all of this? I think maybe, just maybe, the international community has found a status quo that makes the North Koreans less comfortable than everyone else. Assuming that the interdiction and sanctions regime works well -- which is a robust but not entirely unreasonable assumption -- then North Korea gets nothing for thumbing its nose at the world except some more weapons-grade fissile material.
That's not nothing, but it's not all that much either. Pyongyang already has a deterrent to prevent invasion. It can't threaten nuclear blackmail all that persuasively, because it's a pretty hollow threat on their part. And if they can't sell their technology to other countries, then there's no profit in it for them either. Which means they're stuck, wallowing in their own barren dirt, feeling very, very lonely.
Am I missing anything?
Yesterday there was a small but very public disagreement between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh:
[T]he clash between developed and developing countries over climate change intruded on the high-profile photo opportunity midway through Clinton's three-day tour of India. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh complained about U.S. pressure to cut a worldwide deal, and Clinton countered that the Obama administration's push for a binding agreement would not sacrifice India's economic growth.
As dozens of cameras recorded the scene, Ramesh declared that India would not commit to a deal that would require it to meet targets to reduce emissions. "It is not true that India is running away from mitigation," he said. But "India's position, let me be clear, is that we are simply not in the position to take legally binding emissions targets."
"No one wants to in any way stall or undermine the economic growth that is necessary to lift millions more out of poverty," Clinton responded. "We also believe that there is a way to eradicate poverty and develop sustainability that will lower significantly the carbon footprint."
Both sides appeared to be playing to the Indian audience, with Ramesh taking the opportunity to reinforce India's bottom line.
Now, on the one hand, I'm shocked, shocked that the great powers have some disagreement over global warming. And it should be noted that the rest of Clinton's India trip seems to have gone pretty well.
That said, I'm also not surprised that the Indians are acting surly towards the Americans. India did quite well uner the Bush administration on several dimensions. On the security front, India and U.S. interests converged on anti-terrorism and nonproliferation. On the economic front, the Bush administration refrained from criticizing the offshore outsourcing phenomenon that helped boost India's growth.
The Obama administration has not been hostile towards India, but I think they have taken the state of bilateral relations for granted. They've also committed a series of small blunders that riled New Delhi. This began with the attempt to have special envoy Richard Holbrooke's remit include India, and includes the administration's appointment of Ellen Tauscher to be the new Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (Tauscher led the fight against the India nuclear accord in the House).
It looks like Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first foreign dignitary to be the guest of President Obama for a state, so it's not like relations with New Delhi are being significantly downgraded. Still, I'd expect little flare-ups like the one between Ramesh and Clinton to occur from time to time -- and it's not just about atmospherics.
Watch this space at 1 PM Eastern time today, as I'll be liveblogging Hillary Clinton's speech today to the Council on Foreign Relations.
3:00 PM: State Department website back online -- here's a link to the text of the speech.
2:07 PM: That's a wrap, people -- State Department website still down, OK speech. I'll leave the post-game analysis to the commenters.
2:05 PM: Haass closes by asking Clinton what her biggest surprise was in her first six months. Pivots the question by pointing out the difficulties of getting people confirmed. She ends graciously, faux acknowledging that now she realizes what a pain she must have been as a Senator when she queried Foggy Bottom.
2:04 PM: A Boeing guy asks what the State Department will be doing on export promotion and commercial diplomacy. Clinton finesses the question by saying she takes the economic dimension of foreign policy seriously, arguing that economic components cannot be separated from foreign policy.
2:00 PM: Bob Lieber asks a question (he thinks the previous queries have been creampuffs). If other engagement efforts don't work, can the U.S. live with a nuclear Iran? Clinton's response: "I'm not going to negotiate with Iran sitting here." Basically says that she's not optimistic about direct negotiations with Iran, but argues that outsourcing U.S. diplomacy to the EU-3 really didn't work either.
1:55 PM: Good question about the policy dividends received to date from NATO allies on re-engaging allies. Clinton's answer here was both candid and good -- i.e., this is not going to be easy, fears and anxieties need to be assuaged, we're hoping for more progress in the future. Then she wandered into agricultural aid in Afganistan and I lost my focus there for a second.
1:50 PM: State Department website still down, by the way.
1:49 PM: Gets spoon-fed a question that allows her to elaborate on the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, patterned after the DoD's Quadrennial Defense Review (more here from Spencer Ackerman).
1:47 PM: Point-blank question about whether George Mitchell allowed that the completion of in-construction housing settlements in the occupied territories would be permitted. Clinton ducks the question faster than Peyton Manning facing the New York Giants pass rush.
1:42 PM: Question about India. Responds by pointing out how strong the bilateral dialogue is, yadda, yadda, yadda. Sounds a bit more skeptical about engaging India (or a bit less briefed, take your pick).
1:41 PM: Glenn Kessler's take on the speech. Intriguingly, there's nothing about the speech on the front of the New York Times website.
1:40 PM: Question about Iran. Acknowledges that a post-election regime "puts a different complexion" on the government. Nothing new, however.
1:35 PM: First question is on Palestine and Syria, whether she sees progress. Her words say "maybe", but her tone says no. Haass asks a good follow-up question on Hamas' role. Clinton responds with boilerplate -- no change in the U.S. position.
1:34 PM: OK, speech over -- let's get to the Q&A which is always more interesting)!
1:31 PM: Fires a warning shot across Timothy Geithner's bow by saying she wants to upgrade the State Deprtment's role in foreign economic policy. I don't have a problem with that -- so long as the State Department officials actually know what they're talking about. Also echoes SecDef Bob Gates' numerous speeches on this topic.
1:29 PM: Ah, Clinton clears up the idea of leveraging traditional sources of U.S. power -- she's talking about exemplarism. Abolishing torture, reducing nuclear weapons, getting serious on global warming, having the U.S. as a shining city on a hill, etc. She throughs in narco-trafficking into this section, and I'm not entuirely sure how that fits.
1:25 PM: Hmm.... State Department's website is now down. Read into this what you will.
1:24 PM: On development, admits that the U.S. has given less as a percentage of GDP compared to other advanced industrialized states. That sound you hear is the Center for Global Development jumping up for joy.
1:21 PM: The Iran section -- Clinton "appalled" by Iranian government action, but thinks not dealing with the Islamic Republic doesn't solve anything. Acknowledges that the prospects of success have declined in recent weeks. Still thinks its worth making the genuine offer for direct talks. Recognizes Iran's right to civilian nuclear power, conditional on complying with the IAEA, but not a right to the military use of nuclear power.
1:13 PM: Clinton lists her travel schedule for the rest of the year. Not-so-subtle message: "Hey, you people who think I'm doing nothing? Piss off."
1:11 PM: Ah, here's the meat of the speech: the five pillars of Clinton's "smart power" approach:
That last one is a bit vague to me, so we'll see how that develops.
1:10 PM: So far, with the emphasis newtworks of non-state actors, "partnerships with people," and the emphasis on burnishing global governance structures, I'm seeing Anne-Marie Slaughter's fingerprints all over this sucker.
1:08 PM: Repeating a trope of President Obama's, there are some passages here where Clinton talks about how old IR concepts are out of date. Disdains 19th century great power concerts and 20th century balance of power coalitions. Replacing a "multipolar" world with a "multi-partner" world. Meh.
1:05 PM: Cute, flip remark comparing U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration to her elbow -- wounded, but getting better.
1:04 PM: An unsurprising laundry list of policy goals. Free ponies are not discussed, which is too bad.
1:03 PM: According to Hillary, multi-tasking is a gender-laden term. Who knew? Well, besides women, of course.
1:01 PM: Talks about how President Obama has stressed "common interests, shared values, and mutual cooperation." No mention of what happens when there's, you know, a divergence of values.
12:59 PM: Clinton immediately pulls what I'll call an Obama -- observing that the very sources of American vulnerability (interdependence, openness, etc.) are also our sources of strength. It's a neat rhetorical trick.
12:57 PM: And we're off -- a few minutes early, no less!
12:55 PM: In an unconscious sign of how members of the foreign policy community prioritize things, I find it interesting that CFR president Richard Haass is moderating Clinton's speech, whereas Rogert Altman was the moderator when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came to speak.
11:21 AM: FP's own Laura Rozen provides an excellent backgrounder to the speech itself.
The speech matters for the future of U.S. foreign policy and Hillary Clinton's role in it. I had a conversation with a prominent foreign policy professional who characterized Hillary Clinton as the most "invisible" Secretary of State he's seen to date. I think this is partly due to her restricted travel during the elbow injury, partly due to her lack of confirmed subordinates, partly due to Barack Obama's genuine interest in foreign affairs, and mostly due to her style.
If memory serves, when Clinton was elected Senator of New York she put her nose to the grindstone and did nothing flashy for the first six months. In the process, she won the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I suspect something similar has been going on for most of this year.
Dean Stephen Bosworth sent out the following e-mail to the Fletcher School community less than an hour ago:
In the past few weeks, you have most likely seen news reports of my possible appointment as Special Representative for North Korea Policy. I have wanted to keep you informed but naturally could not comment until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made a formal announcement. Now that she has done so, I can confirm that I have accepted her offer.
This honor comes at a truly critical time as the Obama Administration begins to develop its strategy for engaging with
. I will serve as the North Korea U.S.representative to the six-party talks, which seek to find a peaceful resolution to security issues on the . Korean Peninsula
I want to assure you that, with the full support of our President Lawrence S. Bacow, our Chairman of the Board of Overseers Peter Ackerman, and Fletcher’s senior leadership team, I will continue to serve as Dean and will work to ensure Fletcher remains the world standard for graduate institutions of international affairs. My commitment to The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy is undiminished.
Here's the Korea Times coverage on the announcement.
The hard-working staff here at Danieldrezner.com wishes Dean Bosworth the best of luck in getting Pyongyang to agree to, er, anything. As I said last week, "trying to manage faculty meetings at the Fletcher school is excellent prep work for negotiating with the obsteperous officials of the DPRK."
From Amie Parnes' Politico story about internecine Clinton conflicts at the State Department:
Sources familiar with the vetting process say Clinton is playing a role in the decisions and wants to keep some familiar faces around.
Cheryl Mills, who served as Clinton’s general counsel and played a major role in post-campaign operations, is likely to be named Clinton’s chief of staff, sources tell Politico. Clinton campaign aides credit Mills with helping to “bring order” to the Clinton campaign last year.
Seriously? This was Mills' great achievement?
By that standard, I look forward to the appointments of Richard Gere as ambassador to India, John Thain as undersecretary of state for economic affairs, and Alex Rodriguez as goodwill ambassador for baseball.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.